Get smart - Kiwis and new energy technologies

Graphic: Installed capacity of PV in New Zealand, 2009-2015 (Miller et al., 2015 & Electricity Authority 2015)

The future management of New Zealand’s electricity grid will be impacted by changes in the way that consumers interact with electricity. These include the uptake of micro-generation (particularly solarPV), electric vehicles, storage, and energy management systems.

The Smart Grid Forum has released three studies by Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability that look into how Kiwi energy prosumers are responding to these new technologies, along with some insights to what’s happening internationally.

An energy prosumer is defined as consumer of energy who also produces energy to provide for their needs, and who in the instance of their production exceeding their requirements, will sell, store or trade the surplus energy.

The report authors say becoming a prosumer creates many opportunities for people to become more actively engaged with the role of energy in their lives which can lead to collective engagement. They say collective prosumerism has parallels with Airbnb and Uber in that it appeals to people’s interest in personal engagement and personal control, and a similar willingness to trade the level of service for less upfront cost.

Here are some of the key findings from the reports:

  • Early adopters of solar PV in New Zealand are influenced by a desire to decrease their dependence on the power grid while increasing their self resilience. They want to take control of their energy bills and lack trust in the power companies.

  • Battery storage will be a game-changer if prices continue to drop significantly, as they give prosumers greater control, greater ability to optimise their energy exchanges with others, and the option to go completely off-grid should they choose.

  • It appears from a survey of consumers that, while there’s a low awareness of smart home technologies that are available, like smart thermostats, smart appliances, smart plugs and smart lights, Kiwis like the idea of introducing them into their daily lives.

  • The upfront cost of smart technologies (purchase plus installation) is a common barrier to uptake.

  • Future uptake will require more easily accessible (and less technical) information, and “plug and play” solutions that are easily integrated into homes and businesses without the need for technical experts.

  • Smart home package deals will be more successful if they reduce energy usage (saving money on energy bills), improve home comfort, allow equipment alerts, and improve home security.

  • Products offered should be able to be controlled and/or monitored remotely and/or have the capability to be scheduled by the homeowner. People were not keen on allowing power companies to control their appliances.

  • If the industry ignores or attempts to suppress an emerging interest by consumers in collective prosumerism, it may find itself becoming increasingly irrelevant in the lives of electricity users.

To get all the details, the three reports are available online from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.